In 1984, the last time presidential candidates were glad-handing around America's heartland, Iowa women's basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer was in her inaugural season with the Hawkeyes. In little more than the length of a presidential term, Stringer's teams have accumulated 103 wins, come within one basket of last year's Final Four and, this season, bolted out to an 18-0 start and secured a No. 1 ranking. With that kind of platform, the Iowa coach ought to run for office herself. She would certainly have a good bumper sticker: FIRST STRINGER.
Iowa's No. 1 ranking is the first ever for a Big Ten women's team; indeed, the women's game has been so dominated by a few programs that Iowa is only the 10th school ever to reach the top rung. Such lofty heights come as a surprise even to Stringer. "Quite honestly," she says, "coming into this season I wasn't sure we would be this strong." Two starters returned from last year's 26-5 team, which lost by one point to Louisiana Tech in the Midwest Regional. With that painful loss in mind, the returnees beat three Top 10 teams in the Orange Bowl Classic in December and have held the No. 1 spot ever since. Sitting in the No. 2 slot and breathing down their necks is none other than Louisiana Tech, also undefeated.
Iowa's one bona fide star is 5'9" senior shooting guard Michelle (Ice) Edwards, who averages 19.7 points a game and displays Jordanesque hang time. In the middle, Shanda Berry, a 6'3" junior and one of only two native Iowans on the team, has become a tower of power, averaging 14.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. The big scorers are fed by 5'3" sophomore point guard Jolette Law; sophomore Franthea Price plays small forward; and at power forward is 6'2" senior Jolynn Schneider.
Stringer came to Iowa City in 1983 determined to build a national power. She had established her reputation at little Cheyney (Pa.) State, where she led the Lady Wolves to a second-place finish—losing to Louisiana Tech—in 1982 in the first NCAA women's tournament. After 11 years at Cheyney (where her men's team counterpart was current Temple coach John Chaney), the strain of competing against the Goliaths of women's basketball on a David-sized budget finally sent Stringer looking for larger stones to sling.
She never thought she would end up at Iowa. "I didn't think I'd ever consider it, because I don't like cold weather," says Stringer. But Iowa won her over. On the personal side, her husband, Bill, an exercise physiologist, found suitable job opportunities, and their five-year-old daughter, Janine, handicapped by an early bout with meningitis, had access to superior medical care. Moreover Stringer was impressed by the tradition of support for women's basketball in Iowa, especially at the high school level, where crowds of 15,000 have attended championship games. But most Iowa girls' teams still play six-on-six, a much different version of the game, so recruiting in state for the college five-on-five game can be difficult. Stringer has relied on her contacts back East for many recruits, but the home crowd doesn't seem to mind. The Hawkeyes are drawing more than 5,500 fans a game. That's a lot of voters. If Stringer's troops keep winning, by 1992 the state of Iowa may have a candidate of its own.
JAMES SCHNEPF/WHEELER PICTURES
The polls have Stringer, here between Berry (left) and Edwards, on top.